Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Piece of Cake

Ok, so I originally said that this blog would be back up two days ago rather than today. Wanna hear my excuse?

Kay. My computer crapped out. No, seriously. It started showing symptoms just before I went home. Occasionally it would just freeze, and once or twice it gave me five beeps (rather than the normal one) and refused to boot. (Unfortunately, it turns out to be hard to find a list of diagnostic beep codes for Asus motherboards. Word to the wise. I got one eventually: five beeps means "monitor problems.") After I got back this got really bad - I couldn't run it for more than about 10 minutes before it crashed.

Well, I have another computer (two actually - both laptops), but blogging on the desktop is a pretty ingrained habit, so I extended my break.

But that's not the point of this post. The point is just to note how ludicrous the problem turned out to be. In fact what was wrong was that the graphics card had slipped a bit loose. This is apparently (according to the ever-reliable internet) a common occurrence. Back when I built this thing (in June), I remember being worried about just this kind of thing happening, because the adaptor I have on the monitor cable is a bit heavy, and I was worried it would pull the jack out or something. That's not exactly what happened, but it's close enough. On some message board I read a suggestion to someone having a similar problem that he simply take off the cover, take out the graphics card, and then reset it back into place. That's what I did last night, and the problems have vanished.

I sometimes wonder what volume of dollars each year gets spent on "repairs" of this kind. You know, where a perfectly good working part has simply been nudged loose somehow, and all the repairman has to do is snap a cable back in place or something.

This was also a nice illustration of the law of coincidences. Over the break, I had two prescient conversations with family members. My dad asked whether my homebuilt computer was still running (I think he will probably eventually want one for himself - since homebuilts are so easy to upgrade and definitely cheaper over the long run for that reason), and I said that it was (JINX!!!). Also my brother-in-law wanted to know why I wasn't planning to haul it home for Christmas - and I replied that I was sort of afraid it would come apart. Not a real reason, of course - I could always just snap whatever had come loose back into place, but you get sentimental about these things. For a storebought machine I wouldn't worry so much about it because I assume everything is optimized for space and clamped down pretty hard by machine assembly. This kind of durability may be the one advantage to purchasing a manufacturer machine, in fact. I guess you could argue that time savings on assembly are another, but once you realize how ridiculously easy home assembly is, this argument sort of melts away. The two hours you spend on it are easily worth the $100-200 you save upfront, and the savings over time on upgrades (which is where the REAL benefit to having a homebuilt comes in) more than make up for whatever time you invested into learning the ropes and shopping for parts initially.

But probably the biggest benefit is illustrated by exactly this encounter: the money you save on repairs over the long run by just knowing what goes where.

Even assuming something "real" goes wrong, 9 times in 10 it's just a part that needs replacing. So you have to buy the part - which you would've had to do anyway. This way you don't have to pay the man at the shop $50 just to snap it into place for you. In those rare cases where something truly fucked up is the cause, THEN it's nice to have experts - and that, in the end, is what they're really for. Kinda sad that I imagine their bread and butter comes from the repairman's equivalent of plugging in the power cord!

Well - lesson learned. I'm notorious among my friends for knowing fuck all about cars. So far my '99 Maxima has given me 0 trouble (well, modulo a misfiring cylinder, which you can't repair yourself on a Maxima anyway), but it's still a car, so it will eventually. Just like they say about harddrives: "There are two kinds of people in the world: those who have lost data in a harddrive crash and those who will." Probably the same is true about combustion engines. You should back up your harddrive, and you should know some basic things about vehicle repair. Guess I have another project for the break. I would hate to be the auto mechanic's equivalent of "that idiot technophobe who can't even install his own RAM."

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